Q&A with new Big East commissioner Mike Aresco
New Big East commissioner Mike Aresco, formerly a vice president of programming at CBS Sports, has been active in radio appearances and interviews since being named as the conference's new leader. He took time to speak with the Times' Greg Auman on a number of issues, like the league's future and upcoming TV negotiations and the impact a new deal could have on the conference:
Q: You're new to being a commissioner, but you've sat on the other side of the table from many college administrators in your career. Are there any in particular you would pattern yourself after as a conference leader?
A: "It's kind of risky when you single out people, because there's so many able commissioners I've dealt with who are terrific people. Obviously, the people in our core group, I know (SEC commissioner) Mike Slive and (Big Ten's) Jim Delany extremely well. They are very close friends. Our families are close. (Big 12's) Bob Bowlsby, (Pac-12's) Larry Scott, (ACC's) John Swofford's been a friend for a long time. This group, I certainly am going to reach out, talk to them, seek their counsel. A lot of people have a lot to offer. Clearly, they would be the people I would talk to.
"But I know a lot of other commissioners at all levels whom I might talk to. I admire the way the conference offices have been run. They're run extremely well, and they're all different. Ultimately, you have to find your own style and determine what works best for your conference. I certainly would be talking to the commissioners from the other five conferences and also others. (West Coast's) Jamie Zaninovich is a good friend. The minute you start mentioning names, you start getting into trouble with other people. There are some commissioners who have been friends for 25 years or more, like Jon LeCrone at the Horizon. We go back to his days at the ACC. I have a lot of friends like that. (Conference USA's) Britton Banowsky and I have been friends for many years. There's a host of guys.
"I've gone to CCA meetings for many years, commissioners' meetings. I've hosted a dinner that CBS hosted and often gave a speech. I really feel an affinity with this group. They're great guys. I care about college athletics. We've shared issues, we've talked about issues, shared opinions. They treat me like family, treat me like one of the commissioners. I think it'll be an easy transition in that respect. It'll be comfortable in the room. I'm looking forward to that part of it. I am a media guy. I've been a media guy. I've spent a good part of my career in the college community, working with athletic directors and with commissioners, so that should make the transition a bit easier."
Q: Have you had other opportunities in the past to make this kind of move?
A: "There was some interest over the years. I wouldn't want to get into any specific things. I really enjoyed my time at CBS and I've enjoyed the challenges at CBS. This one was totally unique. First of all, it's one of the Big Six, and there are only six of them. The Big East is a complex organization. There's a chance to reinvent a conference that has now been reconstituted in a really good way. I think there's tremendous promise. I'm really excited about the possibilities and the opportunities ahead. I grew up with this conference. I've been involved with this conference since the very beginning of my career in television, at ESPN and then at CBS. Dave Gavitt was a mentor of mine and a great friend, always very supportive of me over the year. Mike Tranghese is one of my closest friends. John Marinatto and I were friends. I have a long history with this conference. I love this conference.
"I grew up in Connecticut, at the risk of favoring UConn, which I don't. Everybody will be treated equally. I grew up a UConn fan as a child in Connecticut there in the old Yankee Conference in those days. It's in my bones. I've been in the midst of this conference for many years. I have friends at all the various conference schools. In your market, Doug Woolard is a wonderful man and a great friend of mine. I've gotten obviously to know Judy Genshaft recently. Just a remarkable woman, first woman to chair the (NCAA) Division I Board of Directors.
"Go around the Big East. When I looked at the list of ADs, I realized there probably were only a few that I didn't know or hadn't dealt with for many years. I'm getting to know the presidents, a great group. It's a great fit. It's a great time in my career for a challenge like this. I don't even consider it a challenge. It's a personal challenge, but it's an opportunity. I really like what I see in the way they've done things over the last several months. The core group, the conference in basketball and football, a great history, great tradition. That part is all intact still. Now they've added a national scope in football, national schools, teams in all the time zones in great markets that also have up-and-coming programs. I'm really pleased about that. The basketball, I still think, will challenge anyone as the best in the country and remains the best in the country top to bottom. It's all there and it's an exciting opportunity.
"I've had a great time at CBS, but this one just makes perfect sense. I said to somebody that I just don't want to be on the sidelines with all this happening. I'm very interested in collegiate athletics. You can't be in the community as I have for all these years and not be interested in all the issues. I'm very interested in the BCS and the new playoff. I'm very interested in governance, in eligibility rules, in the rulebook, in the APR and how all these things are applied. Now I'm going to be in the midst of that and I can't wait. It's going to be a lot of fun and I want to do a really great job for the Big East. I want them to be a leader in everything."
Q: Do you have a sense for how you feel about a playoff system, what you would like to see?
A: "I don't want to get too much into detail on that. I'm comfortable with what they've done. I'm comfortable with four teams and the championship game. I think it's going to be great for college sports. I think it's going to be enormously important in terms of revenue. I think the revenue coming out of this will be great for everyone. It's up to me to make sure the Big East has fair and proper access, also a fair and proper revenue share. I think I'll leave it at that. It's something I'll be looking at closely and heavily involved in, of course."
Q: Skip Holtz down here says the Big East's problem in football has to do with image and not product, just how the league is seen nationally. He believes naming a commissioner and signing a new TV deal can go a long way to correcting that. How important are those two things?
A: "Extremely important. The TV contract is Job 1. That's the most important thing I've got ahead of me in the immediate future. Much will depend on it. Obviously, the finanical stability of the Big East, the confidence the schools have, the self-esteem everyone will have up and down the line, not only the presidents and ADs, but the student-athletes. Everyone will feel better if we have a good contract, if we get the proper exposure, the right platforms, make sure the schools have what they need. That's going to be absolutely critical.
"I think Skip's absolutely right. Incidentally, I don't know Skip well, but I know his dad extremely well. Lou used to work in our studio at CBS. Many moments when we were able to talk privately. When you're in a studio during the day, there's some down time on a Saturday, and Lou and I used to talk all the time. Got to know him very well. He's a wonderful guy and a great friend. I look forward to seeing Skip and coming down to some games. South Florida has huge, huge upside.
"Skip's right: The perception has been an issue. The point I'm trying to make now and making pretty consistently this week, really trying to pound, is that this conference is now a national conference in football and basketball. It's not the Big East in the sense of the old Big East, basically the Northeastern part of the country. It has national scope. It's added teams like Boise, the first team with a truly national identity, a darling of the country, that the Big East has had. Noone will ever forget what they did in the Fiesta Bowl, and they've been great since then. They're very competitive.
"San Diego State rebuilt that program. SMU has a huge future with June Jones. He's a terrific coach. He's done a great job. Look what he did at Hawaii. He plays an exciting style that people enjoy watching. Houston, same thing, same upside. South Florida's always had the upside and they've achieved a lot. They lost, what, four games on the last play or so last year? You know how good they are. They go to Notre Dame and beat Notre Dame, they went to Florida State a few years ago and beat Florida State. Skip's done a great job with that program. It's just a matter of time. They're in a rich recruiting area where you are in Florida. Central Florida, they've had some issues, but they will now present some tremendous upside, not to mention the core group of Louisville and Cincinnati, which have achieved success, Cincinnati in the top four a few years ago. Look at what Rutgers did a few years ago when they had that Thursday game on ESPN and they were on the back pages of all the New York papers.
"I think Skip's right. There's been great achievement in the Big East in football. It just hasn't been recognized. Some of the teams are no longer in the Big East -- West Virginia goes out and beats Oklahoma, West Virginia beat Georgia, Louisville won a big BCS game. UConn went out and played very competitively against Oklahoma when people were not sure they would (lost 48-20 in Fiesta after 2010 season). There have been a lot of great moments in the Big East. The problem has been to some extent perception. When you lose some teams, people say 'What's going on?" We understand that. I think what's happened in the interim is that maybe the Big East hasn't gotten its message out about the new teams. With this hire and the new (TV) negotiation coming up, people are going to be more aware of what the Big East has done to reconstitute itself in football.
"Also in basketball, too. Memphis is a very good program. I've dealt with Josh Pastner down there, I've put some Memphis games on. Very nice program with a natural rivalry with Louisville that goes back a long way. The basketball schools haven't gone anywhere. They're still the best in the country. Yes, you hate to lose Syracuse, but we have so much strength in basketball. SMU with Larry Brown. Houston, Jim Nantz and I talked for about a half-hour. He's obviously an illustrious Houston alum. The history of basketball at Houston? C'mon. It's wondeful. South Florida gets in the tournament and wins a couple of games. There is upside with the new teams and still a core group that's as good as ever. Let's not forget about Steve Lavin and St. John's. St. John's hadn't been relevant for a decade, possibly more. He got them immediately relevant. Obviously he had to recruit a brand-new group of people, and now he's going to have time to develop that program. He's going to get it done. Oliver Purnell is a terrific coach, did a great job at Clemson. He's at DePaul. DePaul would own Chicago once it gets back on its feet. The same thing with St. John's. That's huge for the Big East. The fact that the basketball schools are in big media markets in the East and other places, in the Midwest and the South, it's going to really be compelling when those teams reach their potential. A lot of the others of course already have. I think I just have to get the word out initially, and we have to work hard on getting the right TV deal. If we do that, I think things will take care of themselves."
Q: Is there a chance you'll be in Tampa for USF-Rutgers on Thursday, Sept. 13?
A: "I'm planning on it. Doug Woolard and I have talked about that, and I'm planning on it. If nothing urgent comes up, I'll be there. I want to get down for that game. I think it would be absolutely great and I'm looking forward to it."